When reading the Bible is hard

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My favourite copy of Eugene Peterson’s The Message, my journal and a pen.

The first cup of tea of the morning.

Propped up in bed with pillows or legs curled under in my favourite armchair, with the view of the poplar trees behind our house.

This is a good start to any day: to open the Bible and to simply read. Eyes scanning words, mind moving slowly. Letting the words do their work beyond the mind’s processing, beyond the cares of the day. This kind of reading is entirely different to the novel I read last night, the online article I’ll open later this morning, or even the poem or devotional piece I’m saving up for bedtime, when I need to quieten my soul for sleep.

Today I read in Colossians 1,

Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgivings. We can’t quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians. The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope.
The Message

I’ve tried several times now to write about these verse but all my words fall short. It’s better just to let them speak for themselves. They come with an abundance of language, a vocabulary of overflowing thankfulness and continuously extending love. The abundance of the language seems to echoes the abundance of God’s love. The power of these words to speak without my help means a great deal to me this morning.

I don’t always find it easy to read the Bible and I hope that by admitting this I’ll help some readers who feel the same.

If you we’re raised in a tradition that emphasised a daily quiet time or used guilt as a discipleship tool you will feel like a failure if you don’t keep to your scripture reading plan. But God didn’t invent those plans and he didn’t command those plans. Subtle deceits about Bible reading disciplines and prayer routines need serious healing ministry and by serious I mean; sit yourself down, somewhere comfy and pleasant. Relax. Breathe. God loves you. That is enough.

In the meantime nothing bad will happen to you if you take a break from your Bible.  Diffuse some of the tension and break the fail-guilt-fail cycle. Maybe you will pray some or read a book you really like to encourage you through this difficult time. Music can help. Take a walk in the countryside or by the sea, sit in the garden, listen to the birds. Buy a new journal and fill it up, read poetry, dream.

Come back to scripture carefully, come gently. The words of Jesus make a beautiful start. You can find them easily in those special edition Bible that have all the words of Jesus highlighted in red. If you’ve been feeling battered by harsh Bible preaching or overwhelmed with questions from scripture that no one can really answer you may have grown nervous of scripture. But Jesus is totally kind and trustworthy and His words are a perfect starting point for anyone returning after a break. Pray the words of Jesus long and slow, then wait, then pray them some more. Let the words by-pass simple thinking processes and they will find their own way to the places in your soul that are in the deepest need.

Recall your favourite scripture or think back to a time in the past when you were happy and remember the passages that were precious to you then. You may have been counselled not to spend all your time reading favourite scriptures but this is an exception to that rule. I return to the story of Jacob in all my hard times. Jacob is the original prodigal son and his reunion with Esau is one of scriptures most lovely reconciliations. I read it like a novel or a love story, like a family saga or a quest. Over and over; twins, red stew, a stone pillow and a remarkable dream, people and places baptised with new names, love, trickery, jealousy, stealing and lying. The Bible is comfortable with all these things and so am I.

Here are some kind words from Colossians 1 as conclusion to a post that has been quite hard to write.  I’ve written it for all the ones who refuse to give up and I count myself amongst you. Thanks for encouraging me.

The Message is as true among you today as when you first heard it. It doesn’t diminish or weaken over time. It’s the same all over the world. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you. From the very first day you heard and recognised the truth of what God is doing, you’ve been hungry for more … We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.
The Message


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